FAYETTEVILLE — The University of Arkansas played the No. 4 team in the nation on Saturday and now will get to go play the school that beat last year’s national champion in Baton Rouge.
Arkansas had a great first half against Georgia, but fell 37-10. Mississippi State topped LSU 44-34 in Baton Rouge. Sam Pittman held his weekly Monday Zoom conference and both looked back at the Georgia game as well as ahead to Mississippi State this week.
Pittman talked about areas where Arkansas can and needs to get better this week.
“I think we have to be a lot better on special teams,” Pittman said. “Georgia dominated us on special teams. We couldn’t get off hold-ups. We obviously gave up a blocked put on something very simple that we should’ve worked on it, but it just didn’t happen in the game. Just blocking basically.
“You look at the offense, I think there’s still too much indecisiveness about where to line up, about … I knew we were going to struggle up front against Georgia’s defensive line. I mean, going into the game I didn’t think we were going to be able to pound the ball at them. We’ve got to play better up front. We have to play faster and more physical up front on offense. We need to play more players on defense. I think we got tired. We played a lot of snaps in the first half and about the same in the second half.
“But special teams has to improve in a quick way. We can fix that. And our offense just has to be more consistent and have more urgency. To me, we were just off almost the entire game.”
He used both George Caratan and Sam Loy as punters on Saturday. Is that something he will continue to do going forward?
“Well, we had a plan for a little bit of rugby with Loy,” Pittman said. “He obviously can punt rugby or conventional. I thought the guys punted well. I think Caratan had a 50-yarder with no return on a fair catch, so we obviously, if we’re going to protect like that, we better speed up because we got the block. I didn’t think his operation was slow. They collapsed the middle and came right off the edge. We’re overlapped too much on our shield, as well, so we’ve got to fix that.”
He lost senior defensive end Dorian Gerald to an injury. Several defensive players missed the game for various reasons. Pittman talked about Gerald and getting three of the defenders back this week.
“On Dorian, I think it’s just a wait and see,” Pittman said. “He obviously turned his ankle, so we’ll have to wait and see what comes out of that.
“I think that’ll (getting some players back) help us. (Defensive end Mataio) Soli will be be back on defense. (Cornerback Jarques) McClellion will be back. Those are two that strike me. (Cornerback Devin) Bush will be back. There’s three on defense that we’ll get back. Hopefully, Dorian will be able to play.”
But in addition to getting some depth back on defense Pittman wants the offense to help more with the clock.
“We can’t go three and out on offense and especially take no time off the clock,” Pittman said. “I’m not blaming the offense. I mean, Georgia has got one of the best defenses in America. But we certainly need to have more success there to help our defense out.”
Pittman spoke to the media after the game. Did he see anything different after looking at the film following the game?
“No, it’s hard to see everything,” Pittman said. “Most of the time as a line coach, you’d just watch those five guys, so you could see a lot of it. I thought that at wideout, we have to get separation. We have to get open. They did a nice job of press covering on us. Feleipe (Franks) was getting rid of the ball. We’ve got to get open. We’ve got to get separation. So that was one of the things that stood out.
“I thought our defense played extremely hard, and on tape they did. We missed more tackles in the second half. We had a guy right in the hole on their 6-yard run for a touchdown. We just missed a tackle. We’ll work on that this week. We’ll work on a lot of things this week that we need to improve on, but I like the attitude of the kids. I think they’ll work hard to get there.”
One noticeable stat from Saturday’s game was wide receiver Trey Knox only catching one pass for three yards. Pittman was asked about that as well.
“Well, he’s got to get open,” Pittman said. “That’s the first thing. If you’re a wide out, the No. 1 thing you want to do is go get open. They were pressing and the press is also a lot of grabbing going on. That’s what the SEC does, so we need him to get involved in our offense. We’re certainly looking forward to him doing that. He played extremely hard, but we just weren’t able to get many balls to him.”
Pittman was also asked if there’s anything he would do differently against Georgia if he had it to do over?
“I’d have called a timeout whenever we ran out of time on the field goal,” Pittman said. “It ended up working out best for us because we missed the field goal and we punted and we added 17 yards to the possession. The other thing is I probably wouldn’t have iced him twice, you know. If I’d known he was going to miss the second one I sure wouldn’t have called the timeout.
“Other than that, we had 10 guys on the field twice on special teams. We can’t do that. Some of those things go with first game, some of them, honestly, go with COVID. Nobody understands what happens with COVID in quarantine. I mean, you understand, but what that does to your special teams, to your offense and to your defense. Because one day you test, and the next day they’re not here. And they’re not, not here for two days; they’re not here for 10-14 days, depending. So, with all of that said, I think special teams is the one thing I think we spent a lot of time on, but Georgia’s so big and physical on that, they dominated. We couldn’t get off, we couldn’t get off of them on the punt team, and we couldn’t get off of them on their kickoff return. And it hurt us. I mean, I was going to go for it on fourth down there when it was 7-5. I felt like we had a chance to get up two scores. We took a sack, then we kicked a line drive and they return it back to the 40-some yard line. We just, field position was a big deal. So, special teams has got to be better. Scott knows that, I know that, the kids know that. It’ll be better Saturday.”
Arkansas finished Saturday’s game with 280 yards of total offense including 203 through the air. He wasn’t pleased with the rhythm of the offense during the game.
“I don’t think any of us were happy with the rhythm of the offense,” Pittman said. “Too many misalignments. Shifting a back from one side to another. Tight end from one side to another. Wide receiver on or off the ball. Tight end lining up on wrong side of the ball, wide. There was just too many missed assignments there.
“That slows everything down. Now the quarterback is having to get everybody adjusted. We really didn’t have that problem at practice, but we did the other night. The quarterback was getting everybody lined up instead of looking at the defense seeing how we can attack that. So that has to be a big thing for us this week. We have to calm the quarterback down so he can make plays. The only way we can do that is if everyone else knows what their assignment it.”
Pittman had a simple answer when asked what was the best part of Saturday despite the loss?
“Being the head coach of Arkansas,” Pittman said. “I don’t know. I got to see the kids I had recruited and been around at Georgia and the coaching staff over there. That was a lot of fun. That was great to see them. Obviously, the feeling that we had going in at half ahead. That was a great feeling. I felt like we made some good adjustments. I decided to take the wind in the third quarter, because I felt like we could possibly knock them out. Stop them and get the ball back. It all worked exactly like we thought, except we didn’t score seven on that possession.
“I don’t know. Arkansas has been good to me. And we have to win some games so they continue to be good to me. It was an honor to be the head coach at Arkansas. I felt it.”